Highway FM is possibly the worst radio station ever, unless you like your music country and each song laced with messages of patriotism, a work hard, play hard mantra or neighborly love. Sometimes a bit too much love.
At Buff, a steak restaurant near Minami-morimachi, Highway FM is all you will hear — all the time. And it’s loud.
You hear it on the approach to the restaurant, at the counter, in the toilet and long after you’ve left, it has crept into your brain. Bland looped music has that effect.
The thing is, though, despite the music and its volume, Buff is a fun restaurant. I eat out a lot — both alone and in company — and while the food might be great or not so great, there are plenty of times the element of fun (or craic as we say in Ireland) is sorely missing.
You can’t have fun all the time, but pretty much everyone in this packed, popular and raucous steakhouse was.
Buff is not for vegetarians — which is why it might be such good craic. I’m kidding, I love vegetarians . . . especially cows. The menu is focused on, but not entirely dominated, by all things bovine and the sharing plates are enough for two people.
I’m not quite sure how they arrived at the name Buff: it’s either a misappropriation of the French word bouef (beef) or, more likely, it’s a sign that these guys are serious about meat and are beef buffs.
I was in a group of three and even though we phoned ahead we still had a bit of a wait, which gives you time to get accustomed to Highway FM and peruse the menu.
Buff is a deceptively small and narrow space: It’s all counter and stool seating and the kitchen almost flows into the restaurant.
The aroma of beef cooking fights with Highway FM for ultimate domination. After a 30-minute wait, we were seated at the bar a few feet from a chef who was dressed in a formal shirt with the top button open. The entire night, he was stationed over a small grill turning skewers of beef. I’m guessing he goes through seven shirts a week.
We started with a potato salad, sculpted like a mini Mount Fuji, with little slabs of bacon climbing the face. Just the right amount of mayonnaise and bacon for umami. Croquettes followed, with olives hidden like jewels inside. This was a nice take on a familiar dish.
We followed this with a little beef festival: the house steak and the house burger. I don’t remember if our waitress asked how we wanted our steak cooked, but it came rare, which is only fair to tender meat like this.
The Japanese take on the venerable burger can sometimes be, well, too sauce-heavy. At Buff, the emphasis was on the meat, piled high and topped with enoki and shiitake mushrooms. There’s also plenty besides beef on the menu — the voluminous stuffed tomato was delicious, for example.
Buff, with or without the country music, is a great little affordable spot for meat lovers.